Tennley Noble’s Final Project – Seattle’s Unsheltered Homeless

My project is an interactive data visualization that illustrates the number of unsheltered homeless in the Seattle area. It shows how the number of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle has changed over time and how it has increased dramatically in recent years. Every year there is a “one night count” in Seattle and surrounding areas where all of the unsheltered homeless are counted. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness publishes a summary of the data collected which keeps track of the number of people found in different places throughout the city. This is the data I used to create this project.

In my project, each scene shows a number of images which each represent a place where unsheltered homeless people are living. Each image is labeled with the number of homeless people living there. As the directions instruct, you can use your keyboard to change the scene to a different year. The dimensions of each image change for each year in accordance with the number of homeless people found living in each location that year. This project illustrates data from 2006 through 2015 so that we can see how the number and distribution of unsheltered homeless has changed over time.

As a Seattle native, the visibly large increases in homelessness are troubling to me. But I think that this issue is being largely overlooked by people in the greater Seattle area, specifically those from the more affluent cities surrounding Seattle who have more resources with which to try and stop this homeless epidemic. By creating a visual representation of the number of people living in the different unsheltered areas throughout the city I hope to help others understand how big of an issue this is. I think that my project is both informative and visually stimulating. I think that is does a good job of showing the increase in homelessness and I am proud of the time and effort that I put into it. If this were a longer-term project I would add more detail to the images and the overall scene, but what I have done so far meets my goal of communicating an important message.

A number of different projects inspired me and helped me to come up with my project idea. The first is Nathan Yau’s project on FlowingData called “Years You Have Left to Live, Probably” which is an interactive graph that shows the user the range of statistical possibilities for how much longer he/she will live. The second is a visual simulation of traffic patterns done by Lewis Lehe called “Gridlock vs. Bottlenecks” which uses graphics to simulate the processes that cause traffic congestion. The third, called “Dencity,” is a data visualization of population density across the world done by 3rd Floor at Fathom. I was inspired by how these projects use simple visual elements to display data in an interesting and informative way. I admire how these projects help people to understand the data that surrounds them in their everyday lives. With my project I wanted to use visual elements based on data to “paint a picture” for people that would help them to understand the issue of homelessness that is surrounding their daily lives. And I think I have done this.

Note: The canvas width is too large to display fully here, but the video above shows the canvas as it should appear.

Tennley’s Looking Outwards-11-Final Project Inspiration

I looked through many projects of many different types before deciding what I wanted to do for my final project. As I have written about in past Looking Outwards posts, I love data, so I finally decided to do a data visualization project. A number of different projects inspired me and helped me to come up with my project idea, some of which I have discussed in previous Looking Outwards posts, so here I will discuss two more projects that are of particular interest to me. The first project is a visual simulation of traffic patterns done by Lewis Lehe in 2014 called “Gridlock vs. Bottlenecks.” I like how this project uses graphics to actually simulate the processes that cause traffic congestion. It is interesting to realize how little people probably really know and understand about something as everyday and mundane as traffic. Traffic effects our lives multiple times every day. It aggravates and tires us, yet we may not even really understand how it happens. I am inspired by how data visualizations like this can help people learn more about the processes that influence their daily lives. The second project, called “Dencity,” is a data visualization of population density across the world done by 3rd Floor at Fathom in 2012. Although from a cursory look this map doesn’t seem much different than many abstract visualizations of the world we have seen, a closer look reveals that this map is a unique and beautiful record of population data. The map uses a variation in the color and size of dots to show areas of higher and lower population density. I like how simple yet informative this map is. Both of these projects use simple visual elements to display interesting data and I want to do that with my project. In the way “Dencity” does I want to show areas of increased homelessness, and in the spirit of “Gridlock vs. Bottlenecks” I want to help people to better understand the issue of homelessness that surrounds their daily lives.
Here is an image from Lehe’s “Gridlock vs. Bottlenecks” project. This image is from the site FlowingData, where I originally came across Lehe’s project.
Gridlock-and-Bottlenecks-620x389 image
Here is an image of the whole “Dencity” map and a magnified image of the Eastern United States.
Full Dencity map
magnified view of dencity map

Tennley’s Final Project Proposal-A Data Visualization of Homelessness in Seattle

For my project I would like to create a data visualization of homelessness in Seattle. Specifically, I want to create a visual representation showing how the number of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle has changed over time and how it has increased dramatically in recent years. Every year there is a “one night count” in Seattle and surrounding areas where all of the unsheltered homeless are counted. A summary of the data collected keeps track of the number of people found in different places throughout the city such as on benches, in parking garages, under roadways, in doorways, in city parks, walking around, etc. From 2013 to 2014 there was a 14% increase in the number of unsheltered homeless counted and from 2014 to 2015 there was a 21% increase. As a Seattle native these large increases are troubling to me, but I think that this issue is being largely overlooked by people in the greater Seattle area, specifically those from the more affluent cities surrounding Seattle who have more resources with which to try and stop this homeless epidemic. By creating a visual representation of the number of people living in the different unsheltered areas throughout the city I hope to show how big of an issue this is. I am thinking of creating an animated infographic where each type of place that homeless people are found during the night will be represented by an image, such as bench, a door, a car, etc. Each image will represent a certain number of homeless people. And each year, as the number of homeless people increases, more of these images will be added to show the increasing numbers. There are twelve different types of unsheltered locations recorded, so I may divide the canvas into twelve sections and each section would be like a bar on a bar chart that will grow over time by adding images rather than just filling in the bar. A very rough sketch of my idea is included below.
project idea sketch

Tennley’s Looking Outwards-10-Allison Parrish: The Ephemerides

In an August 2015 blog post Allison Parrish describes the bot called The Ephemerides that she created which pairs a computer-generated poem with a photo from NASA’s Opus database and posts them on Twitter. To make the program that creates the poems Parrish used text from two books: Astrology by Sepharial and The Ocean And Its Wonders by R. M. Ballantyne. Parrish broke each book into individual sentences, then broke down the sentences into clauses, then broke down the clauses into grammatical constituents. This process created a database of clauses and constituents from which the program selects. The constituents are organized based on their part of speech and/or grammatical role. Parrish explains that to make a poem, the program randomly selects a clause and then replaces each constituent in that clause by randomly selecting a constituent of the same part of speech or grammatical role. This means that although the poems are randomly generated, they do maintain some grammatical integrity. The Ephemerides also selects the NASA images randomly. The images come from space probes like Voyager, Cassini, and Galileo. Parrish explains that she did this project because she sees a link between space probes and generative poetry. She says that they both “venture into realms inhospitable to human survival and send back telemetry telling us what is found there.” To Parrish, the realm of the space probe is outer space and the realm of generative poetry is nonsense. I like how Parrish’s work draws a connection between the unknown and hard to understand universe outside of our planet and the similarly unknown and hard to comprehend nonsense created with generative poetry. Combining these two big ideas makes her work confusing, interesting, and that much more engaging. As Parrish points out, the poems and the photos are all randomly selected, so the meaning that a person ascribes to them is coming from inside that person. I find it inspiring how although this project is computer-generated, the meaning and impact of it on each viewer is self-generated from within. I like it when poetry doesn’t always make sense and it requires the reader to think deeply to discover its meaning because then the reader has the ability to interpret the meaning for themselves on a personal level. The reader then can almost ascribe their own meaning to the poetry. These generative poems have that quality.
Check out The Ephemerides on Twitter and visit Parrish’s blog to learn more.
And here is a video of Parrish’s 2015 Eyeo talk.

Tennley’s Project-10-Interactive Creature: Fish Food

My program features a fish who goes after and eats food which is dropped when the user click’s on the canvas. The fish moves its tail in order to swim and it changes direction based on where the food is. Each time the fish successfully reaches and eats a piece of food (the fish needs a few seconds to digest) it grows. The fish grows as it eats until it becomes too large and then it resets at its initial size. I was somewhat inspired by the assignment we did with the walking character. I wanted to be able to not only make an object move, but to design a creature that had moving parts. As I get more skilled at drawing and design I hope to be able to create a creature with even more moving and interdependent parts.
This screenshot shows the fish going toward the first piece of food.
This screenshot shows the fish after it has eaten a few pieces and grown a bit.


Tennley’s Project-08-Portrait

For my portrait project I created two slightly different programs because I thought that it was interesting to look and analyze at the differences between the two. For the first one, which I called Realistic, I used small quads and triangles for the pixels. To add variety, and make the program more interesting to watch as it populated the canvas with colored pixels to fill out the underlying image, I varied the orientation of the pixels by rotating them based on the x-position of the user’s mouse. I also varied when each shape, either quad or triangle, was used based on the y-position of the user’s mouse. Adding these user-determined elements means that each time the program runs it will look different based on where the user’s mouse was when pixels were added to the canvas. I like that this makes each portrait unique. However, I still found that it was pretty boring to watch the small pixels populate the large canvas so I decided to make a second program, which I call Abstract, where I added another element of randomness. In this program, the size of the quads and triangles are set randomly, meaning that they can be bigger or smaller than the pixels in the first program. This means that the canvas fills with colored pixels more quickly, and it is somewhat more interesting to watch. However, what we lose here is some of the specificity of the image. Because the pixel shapes are larger, the colors overlap more and the underlying image is not as clear and precise as with the first program. I like the abstractness and increased randomness of the second program, but I did not want to lose the image clarity, which is why I decided to post both programs.

Images of the Realistic program:

Images of the Abstract program:

Realistic Program:

Abstract Program:

Tennley’s Looking Outwards-08-Damin’s Review of Robo Faber

For her Looking Outwards-02, Damin wrote about Robo Faber, which is an “autonomous drawing robot.” Like Damin, I found this project to be very interesting. I watched the video that Damin included in her post, and to learn more about the project I read a 2013 article by Filip Visnjic called “Autonomous Drawing Robot by Matthias Dörfelt, Determined to Reproduce.” Robo Faber was designed by Matthias Dörfelt as part of a project called Mechanical Parts. The robot draws random lines and shapes which are known as “connectors” or “mechanical parts.” The robot is programmed by Dörfelt using preset systems that he created for flip books that he made, called Weird Faces and I Follow. Robo Faber then draws random and unique mechanical parts which don’t fit together in any specific way. I agree with Damin, that the randomness of the robot’s creations are part of what inspires/interests me. Echoing Damin, the randomness of it makes it seem more creative, and definitely more unique than a lot of art. Another aspect of the project that I like is how it allows a non-living thing to create on its own. The robot’s creations are not something that can be repeated exactly like most computer programs, rather, they are as unique as if they had been made by a human hand. It is also amusing to watch the robot at work, as it looks almost as if it is thinking about what to draw and making artistic decisions as it goes.

Tennley’s Project-07-Landscape

My landscape is a view of a sail-boat race. It shows a view of a blue lake and an orange afternoon sky with the sun glimmering off the water as different colored sailboats move past. Each boat is a random length and a random color, and moves at a random speed as the boats race past each other. The view has multiple layers and levels, as boats can pass by behind or in front of each other. Flying across the sky in the opposite direction of the boats are some birds. The view is very unpredictable as most parameters are determined randomly. I am on the rowing team at CMU so I love being out on the water in a boat. So when I saw this project I thought it was a great opportunity to create a boat race. I hope that as I become more skilled with drawing in P5.js I will be able to make actually racing shells rather than the more simplistic sail-boats.


Here is a photo of my sketch:


Tennley’s Looking Outward-07-Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America

Jennifer Pahlka is the founder and Executive Director of Code for America. According to her biography on the Code for America website, Pahlka recently served as the US Deputy Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she co-founded the United States Digital Service.In her 2012 eyeo speech called “Re-Defining the Citizen Experience,” Pahlka says that she doesn’t code or do data visualization or design, but I find it inspirational that she was still able to make this huge vision of Code for America a reality. Pahlka believes that “tech and design and data are changing the world.” I also share this belief, as I have expressed in some of my other Looking Outwards posts. I think that data has so much value and needs to be used to change the world. Pahlka says that people describe Code for America as a “Peace Corps for Geeks,” or a “Charity for Public Data.” She looks at it like they are sprucing up data and helping it to interact with other data and become more useful. I agree that this is a really important thing to do. Pahlka describes Code for America as basically a fellowship program. She explains that in 2012 there were 26 fellows, out of 500 applicants, so it is a pretty competitive program. She says that the fellows take a year off from what they are doing and come to San Francisco to work with different cities through Code for America. In 2012 they were working with 8 different cities who applied to be a part of the program. Pahlka explains that the fellows are given a specific problem from a city and then they have a lot discretion in how they will solve that problem. Pahlka then gives examples of different projects that Code for America fellows are working on. She explains the problem of the city and talks about the solutions the fellows came up with and how long it took them. Pahlka emphasizes how each project is done faster and cheaper than it could have been done through government channels. One example I found interesting was a 2011 project in Boston. In Boston, parents were asked to choose schools for their child by reading through a huge and very unhelpful packet. The process resulted in a lot of frustration and just didn’t work. Code for America fellows made an app where you put in your kid’s information and it comes back with a map of which schools you are eligible for, and you can favorite schools and compare them. Pahlka explains that it took a few fellows, working part-time, about 2.5 months to make and push live the app. She says they were told if it had gone through regular government channels it would have taken 2 years and cost about 2 million dollars to do the project. Pahlka ends her speech by explaining why she and the fellows at Code for America do what they do. She explains that she feels that government is meant to be a collective effort and it is unfortunate that people lately have lost motivation to work together through government. Pahlka illustrates that Code for America is not just about these specific projects that they do, but it is about making citizens feel better about government in general, and helping to make people re-motivated to be more involved in government and have faith in government. She says, “We want the government to work more like the internet itself. And that means open, it means generative, it means permission-less.” I think that this is an innovative idea that will do really amazing things. I like how Pahlka encourages us to all get involved in a variety of ways, such as by taking advantage of data that the government makes available and building on that. That is something I would personally be interested in.